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Adventures in cable card tuning.


axoid
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Adventures in cable card tuning.

Bill Rockhold – 09/06/2011

 

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I per-ordered the Silicondust HD Homerun Prime back in mid May. It has been a long wait when I received it on Friday before Labor Day. I spent a lot of the weekend picking up parts and trying to get it to work. I called Time Warner, my cable provider, that night to see what I needed to do to get the cable card and tuning adapter. The sales guy was very friendly, but said that I needed to wait 10 days for them to ship the parts out to me and that none of the local locations had the equipment. That didn’t sit well with me so Saturday mourning I went to a local customer service location and was able to walk out with a cable card and tuning adapter.

 

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After unpacking the Silicondust HD Homerun Prime I started setting up the hardware. It was straightforward enough. I ran the cable from the wall to the tuning adapter and than a cable from the tuning adapter to the HD Homerun Prime. Then I just needed to connect the USB cable from the tuning adapter to the Prime and connect then network cable. I just needed to add the power connections to both boxes and the hardware was done.

 

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Now the hard part started. The Homerun Prime didn't come we any driver disk, its not a big deal to me, but don’t be surprised when you don’t find one. I went online to Silicondust’s site to download the prime's drivers.

 

I have two HTPCs. I decided to start with the machine in the bedroom because it doesn’t have many shows scheduled to be record. I installed the drivers, but at one point the installer asked permission to shutdown a couple of services; if I chose not to I would need to reboot the computer to finish the install. I chose not to stop the services and once the install was complete I restarted the pc. After the reboot I used the HD Homerun config tool to enable the tuners and set channels. I was happy to note that this tool and drivers covered the Over the Air HD Homerun tuners as well.

 

I then started Windows Media Center. Setup in Media Center is a two step process. The quick start guide that came with the Prime tells you to go to the Extras Gallery on the media center menu to run the Digital Cable Advisor. Media Center came up with a message saying that it can't start the program. I figured that it was because I didn't let the installer shutdown the two services. I exited Media Center and re-ran the Prime’s driver installer again, letting it stop the services this time. I re-booted again just to be safe and I then returned to Media Center to run the Digital Cable Advisor. This time program ran, down loaded some software from the internet and ran a compatibility test on the PC's hardware. The test failed on the video card or its drivers. So I downloaded and installed the latest Nvidea video drivers and ran Digital Cable Advisor again, where it failed again on the video card. This HTPC has been running on the motherboard’s built in video controller and is not compatible with the copy protected video streams. Sso I'll need to pickup an new video card for this PC.

 

But not to be daunted, I went to the living room HTPC and started going through the set up process again. The driver setup went smoothly as did the Digital Cable Advisor process; it’s running an ATI video card. At this point you need to setup the TV signal, this isn’t mentioned in the quick start guide, as you would with any other tuner setup. The process found all of my tuners, (2 internal analog tuners, 2 OTA HD Homerun tuners and the 3 HD Homerun Prime tuners) as I moved through the process for the prime tuners a screen came up instructing me to call Time Warner customer support, it even included customer support phone number.

 

When I picked up the cable card, Time Warner had disabled my regular cable box. I brought this up with customer support in addition to wanting to activate the cable card. They were able to fix the cable box quickly, but after they tried to activate the cable card, Media Center kept displaying a message saying that I wasn't subscribed to the service. The Support Rep was at a loss but transferred me to the cable card support group. The cable card support Rep explained that I should have followed the Time Warner cable card activation instructions that were supplied with the cable card, instructions they didn't give me, which would have told me contact his group instead of the regular customer support group. He was already familiar with the HD Homerun Prime and was able walk me through what I needed to lookup to get the cable card activated. Once the card was activated I was finally to view the new digital cable channels.

 

I want to make sure this is clear. The phone number that I was instructed to call by the software to activate the cable card was the wrong number for my case. So if you get activation instructions from you cable provider, follow them in difference to the instructions that that my show up in Media Center.

 

At this point the tuners are working for one of my HTPCs, but showed another weakness in my home setup. The living room HTPC is using powerline networking and has problems getting enough bandwidth to stream HD content. It does fine with SD content or MP4 HD content, but HD WTV is just a little too much for my network connection. I guess anouther project in my future.

 

Sunday, I had to do the family thing, so it wasn’t until Monday, that I was able to get to Microcenter and pick up a new, inexpensive, ATI video card for the bedroom HTPC. After installing it and pulling the newest drivers from AMD, reinstalling Silicondust drivers, I was able to get through the Digital Cable Advisor. I finished the tuner setup and tried watch a HD channel and got an error message after seeing a few seconds of HD goodness. The message is “Display driver error: The video playback device does not support playback of protected content.”. This sent me looking a the drivers and setup, but I shortly found that if I switch Media Center from full screen to a window or vice-a-versa would fixe the problem. This is very annoying, but workable for the short term as I continue to research the problem.

 

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So what do I think of the HD Homerun Prime? Having only watched 2 hours through the Prime and having not tried the Ceton tuner products, the HD Homerun Prime does what it says it does. My only complaint is that there are a lot of failure points where things can go wrong, but none of them are Silicondust’s fault. It is the mess that is copy protected digital content as it stands today.

 

Would I recommend it to others? Only if you’re not of the faint of heart. As long as you a familiar with video cards, tuner cards, software drivers and networking; knock yourself out. I think it is the most flexible way to skin this cat.

Edited by axoid
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